The following was originally a post on our mailing list in September 2000. In the interests of allowing more people to see it, we are presenting it as an editorial on our web site.
The following is long and a bit rambling. It is just some thoughts I have had going around in my head, and thought I would put down for personal clarity. These are just my opinions. I don't wish to imply that I have a unique and correct insight that others miss. This is simply the way I have seen things. I thought I would post this and give others the opportunity to comment one way or the other.
It is not really meant as a rant against fluff bunnies. Rather some observations of how and why things have gone the way they have in Wicca, and how I feel it effects me as an individual. I would really like to get some others' perspectives on the whole evolution of things, even from those non-Wiccans here.
I have been noticing a few things about Wicca and the changes it has been going through over the past decade or so. I first began to get involved with Wicca in 1982. I felt it would round out my spiritual practices, and it did.
I have to admit that one of the things that appealed to me about it were the mystery and the fact that it directly addressed some of the most primal aspects of human existence; life, death and sex.
At that time the more vocal debates about the origin of Wicca were just getting into swing. There had always been controversy I suppose, but up until then it was mostly debate within or between occult groups, and an occasional article in one of the few Pagan publications.
So, for the most part, at that time people were still being taught the idea that Wicca was an ancient tradition that went back practically to Paleolithic times. That the form may have changed, but what we were doing was in direct decent of what our primitive (yet spiritually advanced it seems) ancestors did. I know that for me and the circle of individuals I associated with, this so called ancient link and sense of antiquity given to what we were doing lent a sense of awe when we entered a circle. It produced a certain mindset that opened us to the wondrous. Gardner may have reworked some stuff and supplemented it, but as far as we were concerned he was a Witch who's practices could be traced to the farthest reaches of human memory. He was in touch with something that modern man, living in modern society, had been mostly cut off from. We few who were following this path were trying to reconnect to something ancient, enlightening and yes, powerful.
There were some good books out. Even those of us lucky enough to find a coven supplemented our practice with stuff from these books. But these books were written by people like us, who felt we were dealing with something ancient and mysterious. They were not best sellers, and most bookstores did not carry them. Searching these books out lent a certain sense of adventure to the whole learning process.
Gardner had talked about life and death in plain terms. Death is still a subject that we avoid in most western societies, but here was a guy who explained that birth, death, and sex were all a part of the great cycle we, as animals on the Earth, were a part of. It was a philosophy that included both the base and the sublime. It dealt with the body and its functions, sweat, blood and the dirt under our feet. But also the spirit, the search for transcendence, the union with the higher forces of the universe.
We thought about things we otherwise would not have. We celebrated dirt, sex and death. There was joy in it, but also something dark. Not in an evil way, but in the sense that we were putting our minds to things our society labels as impolite conversation, morbid topics, and things better left unexamined.
As time progressed things changed. At first it seemed like a very good change to me. More books. Books actually geared to solitaires. Books suggesting self initiation is ok. And eventually books that dealt with the idea that the history we were being told about our links to the distant past, the numbers killed in the "Burning Times", the stories of who were witches secretly in the past and the things they had done, were not accurate. That some were outright lies. That Gardner made it all up.
I did not care, and neither did most of those I knew. So Gardner made it up? He would not be the first to create a false history to give validation to his creation. It did not change the fact that what he created answered a spiritual need for some of us. So what if some of the awe at the thought of the antiquity was gone? So what if some of the mystery was lost when numerous variations of our secret ceremonies were being published in books for anyone to read?
At first it seemed that those who were learning on their own from just books and experimentation were doing well. They were just as dedicated, and often just as educated. They also tended to have a streak of creativity that was breathing new life into Wicca. They were making it more accessible and understandable. This was, to me, a good thing. If Wicca could help people searching for something missing in their spiritual lives then I was all for it. We were still part of something different. Something that may becoming available to more people. But due to its frank nature, and dealing with certain aspects of life that most preferred not incorporate in to their spiritual thinking, it was not going to be the path for very many despite this deluge of information being easily accessable.
But as the history was refuted and the secrecy was stripped away things started to change. There were those who felt that since Gardner made it up it was fair game to change the things they did not like. Fine to certain extent. I am all for people modifying to fit their needs, to a point.
But in my opinion some of those things that have been changed are some of the things that make Wicca what it is. The first casualties were the Death and Sex. Birth was ok, and you can't get away from the death completely, but it was drastically reduced in importance and brushed under the rug.
Magic, in terms of spell work, started to take precedence over religion. I never understood this since you don't need the religion to do the spell work. But it seems many would be Witches and Magicians wanted to seize on the concept of "White Witchcraft" in a way that seemed less threatening to others or themselves.
The problem is that Gardner's Wicca was not not threatening (please forgive the double negative). It was, in fact, rather radical and dangerous in its own way. Not inherently dangerous to the individual practicing it, but dangerous in a societal sense because it provided a worldview that was significantly different from that of Western society as a whole. At lest that is how it seemed to me in my younger years. The changes being made were in order to make it more appealing as a possible spiritual path to a wider bunch of people, and more acceptable to society at large.
The books coming out were "lighter". Less Sex and Death. Not only were certain practices that were not appealing to a large number of people called unnecessary, old fashioned or optional: they were not mentioned at all.
I was recently reading a review of some Wicca books on amazon and found people criticizing Raymond Buckland's early books. Not criticizing his writing style or overly authoritarian tone. They were criticizing his use of bondage and scourging during initiation rites. His discussion of sexuality as sacred. His explanation of the Great Rite in fact, not symbolism. There were those calling him sick and perverted.
I was floored at this. All these things are part of the Wicca Gerald Gardner created. They have been a part since long before I was born. And here are people who have no clue of that. They call themselves Wiccan, but look upon some of the most basic concepts of Wicca as sick and perverted.
With the discarding of the Pseudo history Gardner created for Wicca there seems to have been a loss of understanding of why he did things the way he did. I have come to realize that the pseudo history contained a lot of the myth and symbolism that defined the message of Wicca.
Joseph Campbell once said that the problem with Christianity is that it takes it's myths too literal. In doing so the symbolic message contained in those myths is lost to many. In the case of Wicca we have discarded the myth altogether, and with it the core of what it is all about.
I try not to be judgmental, but I have a hard time seeing these "fluff bunnies" as Wiccan. Not because I am an elitist who thinks that every one who does not agree with my version of Wicca is a heretic. But these are people who don't even have a clue they are disagreeing with the original teachings of Wicca. Wicca is a religion of Death, Birth and Sex, yet these people are trying to remove these very things, or at lest trying to change the concepts to the point that Gardner himself would not recognize.
The books are teaching something very different than what I was taught. They are more about spells with a touch or religion thrown in. They are about casting circles and consecrating the pretty new wand you bought at the local occult shop. The dirt and blood and sweat are gone. The extremes of life, the pain and joy, celebrated and cherished in Wicca have been converted to more acceptable and palatable middle of the road point of view.
The few concepts that have survived because they were acceptable enough not to be changed or removed have been adhered to with such ferocity that their true meaning and purpose have been lost in rabid fundamentalism. Like most fundamentalists these Wiccans hold certain things about their religion as absolutes while brushing the aspects they are not comfortable with under the rug. The old "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" syndrome.
The mystery religion of Wicca is now Pop Culture. Wicca (in it's lightened form) is hip. It is on television. Or at lest the term Wicca is. Those who are supposed to be Wiccan on these shows bear even less resemblance to Gardner's concepts than the new crop of fluff Wiccans. We have become trendy and trite. The lightening up of Wicca has not really brought us in to the mainstream of religion in the U.S. We are just a fad to some, a joke to others, and just as evil to those who look for evil under every stone.
I am starting to feel that Wicca, as I have always thought of it, is dead. There is a new Wicca in town and it bears little resemblance. I am reluctant to use the term anymore for myself. I find that if I have to describe myself in terms of religion I fall on my roots and simply say Buddhist. At least that typically gets some respect. Or just call myself a general Pagan and leave it at that.
I am not a strict traditionalist. I think change can be a good thing. But change something too much and it is no longer the same thing. It is fine for folks who don't feel comfortable skyclad to wear robes, but don't turn around and call the skyclad folks perverted. It is fine to forgo scourging in initiations, but don't assume that it was there just for kicks. Try to understand the reason it was there and replace it with something that achieves the same effect in a way more acceptable to you. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.
This new, new religion of Wicca is not for me. The old, new religion of Wicca was more my cup of tea, but there is no place for it anymore it seems. What is a middle of the road Pagan/Buddhist to do? I don't fit in with the strict British Traditionalists who accept every word of Gardner as holy write, and I don't want to fit in with the fluff bunnies. I don't want to abandon this part of my spiritual life. My core is Buddhist, but my outlook is often very Pagan. Change can be grand, but change can also suck. It all depends on what way the wind is blowing I guess.
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